Food Addiction Is Really About the Need for Love

When obsessions about food and love collide

Posted May 30, 2016

CarolynRoss/Shutterstock
Source: CarolynRoss/Shutterstock

If you struggle with out-of-control eating, there’s a good chance that you also have a history of romantic relationships that don’t work out well or that don’t truly satisfy you. Perhaps you have a tendency to obsess about your partner, holding fast to the idea that this is the one person in the whole world who can finally make you feel safe and whole. Maybe you feel that you’re truly alive only when you are in love. But one after another, your relationships fall apart.

When the going gets tough, you may find yourself turning to food to feel better. Your partner may no longer be there for you, but perhaps a pint of chocolate ice cream will help ease the loneliness. Maybe you even feel addicted to your comfort food, whether it’s ice cream or something else.

Soothing the pain of a romantic disaster by curling up on the couch with an oversized portion of your favorite dessert may seem like a cliché, but the connection between food and love is profound and should not be underestimated.

If you have difficulty with both eating and relationships, don’t be too hard on yourself – there are powerful forces at work here. If you’re one of the many people who suffers hard-to-manage compulsions and feelings of failure about both relationships and eating, you can empower yourself by learning about the common issues that underlie both food addiction and love addiction.

You’ve probably heard the saying “food is love.” In my practice, I see many patients who have an addictive relationship both with food and with their romantic partners. It is not uncommon for people to use relationships in the same way they use food – to manage feelings of inadequacy or loneliness. The connection is not at all coincidental; in fact, food addiction and love addiction have exactly the same root: a deep and unfulfilled need for love and security.

This pattern is called insecure attachment, and it begins in childhood, when your needs for validation, love, and connection are not consistently met in a satisfying way by a parent or other caregiver. You fear being let down or even abandoned by those you love and depend on. Eventually, any prospect of intimacy carries a certain level of anxiety.

Attachment matters not only in childhood but throughout our lives. Even as adults, we look to other important people in our lives to help us feel secure. Unfortunately, the burden of insecure attachment can follow you into adulthood. You may want very much to be close to someone, and at the same time you fear that closeness. Relationships take on an obsessive, push-and-pull quality. It’s hard to feel at ease.

The relationship with food is similarly ambivalent. Food seems to offer the promise of comfort, but it never quite delivers. You find yourself in a cycle of obsessive pursuit followed by disappointment and shame. When you are between relationships, food may be your main object of obsession. When you’re in a relationship, your love addiction comes to the forefront. Food takes a backseat temporarily.

To find a way out of this bind, it’s important to understand that both food addiction and love addictions are process addictions. It may seem that you’re addicted to a particular food, such as chocolate ice cream, but the real issue is that you’re using the food to soothe the pain of emptiness. The same goes for your love interest: what you’re really addicted to is how that person makes you feel.

Any addiction – to food, to a substance, or to love – is chronic and you may have numerous relapses. It involves compulsion to pursue the object of your addiction, and some loss of control over your behavior. When your “fix” is not available, you may feel desperate, angry, or sad. Sound familiar?

Recovering from twin addictions to food and love is a matter of making an ongoing commitment to deep personal growth. These are not problems that can be solved on a superficial level. But when you see more clearly the similar roles that eating and romance play in your life, you can begin to heal.

The path begins with treating yourself with compassion and learning to think of eating primarily as a way of nourishing your body. If you’re in a relationship, do your best to make it a healthy one; let your partner know what you need, and don’t settle for someone who treats you poorly or leaves you feeling even more empty than before. And finally, give yourself the gift of exploring your deepest life purpose. For many people, this involves exploring spirituality or service to others.

The work of recovery isn’t always easy, but the rewards are well worth it. When it comes to both food and love, you deserve peace and fulfillment, and it’s within your power to find them.